The road to Bellator 106 was a rocky one for the promotion as it attempted to make a splash earlier in the year by announcing that Tito Ortiz and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson would headline the promotion’s first pay-per-view event. The news was met with much criticism from both fans and media, while only exciting those who casually follow the sport and recognized the names of Ortiz and Rampage, but were not necessarily aware of how both have fared in their fights over the last five years. In addition, it went against the grain of a perceived business plan in which Bellator wouldn’t make a practice out of signing UFC fighters who may very well be past their prime.

Although Tito vs. Rampage didn’t get me pumped in expectation of seeing an epic fight, I was excited to see both men in the cage, if for no other reason than nostalgia. Eventually, as many predicted would happen, one of them pulled out of the fight due to an injury (in this case, Ortiz fractured his neck) and the pay-per-view was scrapped and put on Spike TV. Although the rematch between Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler was worthy of a pay-per-view main event, Bellator understood that Alvarez and Chandler aren’t names the casual fan recognize and thus wouldn’t be able to sustain keeping the event on pay-per-view. Moving the entire card to Spike ended up being a blessing in disguise, as more fans were able to see the thrilling fight and should be more inclined to purchase Alvarez vs. Chandler III when that eventually comes to fruition.

As I was heading to the Long Beach Arena, I was curious as to what kind of attendance the event would get. Living in Redondo Beach, Calif., just 15 miles away from the arena, I didn’t talk to very many people earlier in the day who were aware that there was a fight going on that night. One week prior, I was alarmed that there were those who still believed Ortiz and Rampage were on the card. That’s one of the moments I have every now and then when I realize how much of a MMA bubble I live in. It’s just like anything else. If you consume yourself with something, then you start to lose touch with how much the average person knows about that same something.

Upon arrival at the Long Beach Arena, I was encouraged to see a line of people waiting to get into the building that went about 100 yards. This was at 3:30 P.M., still 30 minutes away from the first prelim of the night. There was a solid array of Bellator shirts sprinkled amongst the fans in line, and as I made my way to press row, it looked like we were going to have a pretty excited crowd on hand for the event.

There was a pretty good buzz for the opening prelim between Josh Smith and Darren Smith, but that was immediately doused during the Cleber Luciano vs. Joe Camacho fight, in which we saw Luciano perform what I recall one person calling the “most boring dominant performance in MMA history.”

The highlight of the preliminary card was Mike Guymon’s submission win over Aaron Miller. It was a back-and-forth battle that featured a very impressive array of work on the ground by Guymon. It was also probably the most injured I’ve seen a fighter appear to be after a kick to the rocks. It was due in large part to that delay that the fight between Jesse Juarez and Joe Williams went unaired.

Around 20 minutes prior to the start of the main event, Bellator ring announcer Michael C. Williams did his best to get the Long Beach crowd pumped for the live broadcast of the show. After an initial surge in cheers, the noise dwindled down to a few claps and it was apparent the fights were going to have to deliver to get a resurgence of excitement back into the arena. Unfortunately, the edge-of-your-seat moments were far and few between up until Alvarez vs. Chandler.

It’s not due to a lack of effort from Bellator or the fighters, but it was going to take one heck of a night of fights for fans to become engaged with fighters who for the most part were being introduced to those in attendance for the first time. Forget whether or not Ortiz vs. Rampage was going to be a good fight or not, the card was meant to attract fans in an effort to give the fighters on the card more attention. Everyone in the building will remember the fight between Alvarez and Chandler. It was that good, but it probably won’t be enough to sway fans to come back and plop down their hard-earned money on another event with little star power.

In between fights, I took a look at what fans and media were saying on Twitter. As expected, the vast majority of the tweets I saw were bashing the event and organization. Although Bellator may appear to be the stepchild of the UFC, the roster of fighters and the employees working behind the scenes of the promotion all have a passion for the sport to successful.

By the time a fighter steps into a cage, they have already logged in hundreds of hours of training. In many cases, that’s time away from helping their kids with their homework or going out to dinner with their spouse. So many of these men we see fighting in Bellator are being given a second, third or fourth chance to revive a once-promising MMA career. Sure, we can hide behind our keyboards and call them washed up or make comical jabs at Bellator for trying to put together a pay-per-view, but we should be a bit sensitive to the fact that everyone involved is busting their ass and trying to put on a show just like anybody fighting in any other promotion, including the UFC.

I’m guessing most fans who consistently criticize anything Bellator related haven’t seen one of their fighters step into the cage one loss away from seeing his professional career go down the drain. They don’t see his family and friends pulling for him a few rows up in the crowd, and they certainly don’t have any idea how much training goes into one single fight.

And it’s not necessarily just Bellator, it’s the assumption that if it’s not the UFC, then it’s not worth watching. The UFC is a phenomenal organization, the best in the world, there’s no doubting that. There is, however, a misconception that there is nobody good outside of the UFC. Hopefully, fans who saw Alvarez and Chandler go at it now have a newfound respect for non-UFC branded events.

For the hardcore MMA fan, this is nothing new. You’ve heard people new to the sport say, “I’m going to start training UFC.” You also have some sort of idea what one fight can mean to one person. It can mean a dream continues for one and ends for another. On a more important note, a successful run in MMA provides for a family just like being successful in anything else. Whether it’s the UFC, Bellator, NAAFS, CFFC or any other promotion, perhaps it’s time to be just a bit more objective instead of just calling something “crap” without taking into account the story of each individual fighter.

Bellator may never become more successful than it is today. Heck, perhaps the promotion will be purchased by the UFC and cease to exist in a couple of years. But it’s not like Bellator isn’t trying. The promotion is pushing the envelope the best that it can and will continue to put on the best fight cards possible. Some may be great and some may be a disaster, but it’s a promotion that is able to provide a platform for fighters to chase a dream while also giving MMA fans another avenue to get their fix.

It’s hard to fault Bellator for trying, but I suppose that’s just the society we live in today.

Photo: Eddie Alvarez (rear) works to choke Michael Chandler (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Joe Chacon
Staff Writer

Joe Chacon is a Southern California writer that has also spent time as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, as well as a Staff Writer for Operation Sports. Joe has a passion for the sport of MMA, as well as most other sports.